Garbage trucks and economic growth

Garbage trucks and economic growth


Friday, October 18, 2019

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Recently the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) reported that looking forward, Jamaica is projected to grow in the 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent range. This is significantly under the 5 per cent in four years that was the talk on everyone's lips in 2016, when the Economic Growth Council was launched in much fanfare.

At the time, I had indicated that 5 per cent real GDP growth, is achievable but first we need to address our productivity challenges before it became a reality. As we approach the four years for the 5 per cent target, my view is still that Jamaica has the ability to achieve it, but only if we can address our productivity challenges.

My view also remains the same that we will not achieve the 5 per cent target, primarily because our public sector bureaucracy and political environment will simply not allow us to address those productivity issues.

We just don't have the will in our politics (primarily Parliament) and bureaucracy, to do so. We will therefore continue to scrape to get 1 per cent growth per annum, and occasionally get to 2 per cent to 3 per cent, which seems more unlikely today as the probability of a global recession increases.

The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) has also been a focal point recently, not just because of the governance and other structural improvements, but the challenges we have been facing with garbage collection. We do recognise, and discuss at every board meeting, the challenges the agency faces in being able to collect garbage in a more timely manner. So instead of being close to our target of once to twice weekly collection, we are more at once every two weeks for our national average.

This challenge with collection is not because the people are not working diligently to reduce the load, or because of inadequate planning, or with any lack of support from our minister. On the contrary the workers have been going almost 24 hours per day, the planning and analysis have improved significantly, and the minister provides tremendous support in our efforts.

So the effort and resources we have are all working as hard as they can. The problem we have is that, like the Jamaican economy, our productivity and delivery is restricted by the environment in which we have to operate.

No doubt there is great similarity between efficiency in garbage collection and economic growth. One could say that the result of both is that we have more “garbage” to deal with.

So why are we unable to collect garbage more efficiently, even though in my view the NSWMA is more prepared than ever before to improve the service levels around garbage collection and management?

For the first time in its history, we have been able to file our annual report and annual audited financial statements on time. Our corporate governance and accountability framework is very strong. The workplace culture is significantly improved. And over the past two years we have introduced more than 40 new compactors in the system, and had major improvements to the management of the dumps.

The fact is that, despite the improvements we have seen at the organisational level, our service delivery, and collection productivity, is being severely impacted by the environment.

A few years ago we had a visit from some people overseas, who told us that no matter how many garbage trucks we have, if we don't have a facilitative environment, we will never be able to keep pace with garbage disposal.

So when the truck goes out on the road, the first thing we face is the same traffic like everyone else. Frequently I receive a call from my staff members to say that the traffic is horrendous and they are at a standstill.

Well just multiply that by three times when it comes to moving those large trucks on the road.

So just from traffic alone productivity falls by about three times, so three trucks do what one truck should be able to during traffic, which is most of the day.

The second challenge is that because people do not containerise their garbage properly, the sidemen have to spend three to four times more (could be more) shoveling up the garbage than just picking it up and moving. Again it takes four trucks to do what could be done with one, if people used proper garbage bags. And sometimes people do put them in bags, but we have an environment where dogs and other animals are allowed to run free on the roads, and often scatter the garbage around.

The other challenge we have is commercial operators who instead of disposing of their garbage privately as they should, pay someone to dump it in a local skip, or sometimes just dump it on the road. So this could add maybe another 1.5 times less efficiency.

Also in recent times we have been faced with delays caused by the rains, as when the trucks enter the dumps they are faced with mus that they have to traverse on the dump sites, as we have as a country failed for over 6 years to start the privatization process of the dumps and garbage collection process. Estimate another 1.5 times loss of productivity.

The final challenge I will mention is the large number of informal settlements we have. Because the communities are unplanned and lack proper infrastructure, it makes collection very difficult, and that is probably the biggest challenge with garbage collection consistently. Let's say this causes another three times reduction in productivity.

This means that overall we are looking at an accumulated 9 to 10 times loss in productivity because of the environment in which we have to operate such as improper legislation, undisciplined driving on the roads, breaches by some commercial operators, and general lack of enforcement of laws.

The result is our resources are up to 10 times less productive than another country, and that means that we need maybe five to 10 times the number of trucks to do an efficient job. It also means 5 to 10 times more employees and money.

That is not affordable and so the compromise is that instead of twice a week collection we have every 2 weeks.

This is no different than our inability to get to 5 per cent growth.

Dennis Chung is the author of Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development AND Achieving Life's Equilibrium. His blog is


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